This past Saturday I was walking in the city of Nairobi and noticed something very peculiar. Not Peculiar in the way Sunny Bindra refers to 'Peculiar Kenyans' in his book but strange in the sense that it was not the peculiarity I was expecting, in fact was quite the opposite. Now before I descend into logical confusion let me tell you what I'm talking about.
I had gone into town in a matatu and just before we got to the stage we had to stop due to traffic, however the conductor did not allow us to “shuka na jam” (alight in the traffic). The reason was rather obvious , place was crawling with 'ma-kanjo' -City Council officers (4 of them around the bus stop to be precise-funny it was 'end month' when wallets are fat, hmmmm) , a dreaded bunch they are even more than the police due to the way they enforce city by laws with great enthusiasm. So I had to wait until the vehicle came to a complete stop at the stage before alighting. This was to be expected given the circumstances, question is would it have been the same if not for the presence of the askaris(officers)? By the way that is not the strange event, that comes up next.
After alighting I had to cross the road. Now that there are working traffic lights in the CBD you have to give them a good look before crossing more so when there are 'kanjos' around. Even when they are not I do my best to adhere to the instructions, the other pedestrians were not as alert and were crossing whenever they go the chance. When standing there looking like an 'idiot' waiting for the light to turn green I noticed that I was not alone. “Hmmm now that's odd” I said to myself very rare indeed. When the light's turned green we crossed but the ones on the other side of the road were red so we had to stop in the middle- this was on Kenyatta Avenue. Once again it was just the two of us ( hey that sounds like a song, but I digress), there was no traffic and so the other pedestrians were crossing and after standing for along time waiting for the light to change, I was like what the heck? Funny that when it did turn green there were vehicles turning into the road from the nearby junction so we couldn't cross. Wonder whether the lights were malfunctioning or there was mass running of a red light. After that I decided to cross once the road was clear colour of the lights notwithstanding. So when I got the chance I took it but my friend remained rooted to the spot. Now that's what I found really peculiar- to the point of asking myself “is he Kenyan?” Seriously I'd never seen anybody else behave like that, you may say he was being pedantic but actually he was doing what we all should have been.
Another question I asked was whether he was doing it for fear of the 'kanjo', maybe he'd paid a hefty fine in the past for a misdemeanour and didn't want to take his chances. A more important question to ask is why don't we have more like him? People who will play by the rules all the time? Earlier on I had mentioned Sunny Bindra's book- which I'm yet to read being myself a peculiar Kenyan who doesn't read much. If you read his articles in the Sunday Nation you'll see how much he talks about the need for change in our behaviour in our nation. One of my pet subjects is our Kenyan roads which sometimes look like the biggest assylum in our country. The behaviour on our roads tells a lot about out national psyche and our attitude to rules and laws. I'm also guilty as you have seen of being 'pragmatic' as opposed to sticking to the rules to the letter. They're there for our benefit but somehow you feel that you can bend them- after all I'm in a hurry, though somehow we Kenyans tend to be late a lot.
The example of traffic lights is a good one to use. However it's worth noting that for a long time they were inoperative so a generation of city motorists has never experienced them beyond the few theoretical sessions in driving school. That has made us think running red lights is not a big thing, we do it practically all the time, heck even the cops instruct us to do it, leaving us sometimes to wonder who to obey, the policeman or the lights. When the junction is clear you say to yourself, “nobody's watching I'll cross, everybody's doing it” been there myself. What's more if you decide to be a good law abiding citizen and stop, you'll be bombarded by the din of blaring horns and if you stand your ground you can read the lips of the other motorists to see what they think. So what's the purpose of having them if they are not to be obeyed? I wonder if it's just a Kenyan thing. I remember when in South Africa late on a Saurday night with the road pretty much empty the driver still had to stop! It may look silly but that's what integrity and character is all about, doing what is right even when nobody is watching.
We want change in Kenya, we want a just society, we want and end to corruption and impunity, we want a social revolution, we want to see vision2030 realised. Right now any casual of observer looking at this great City of Nairobi will realise there's a lot of disorder from the roads, to the hawkers, to the garbage, to the leaking sewage etc. However there are laws and regulations to maintain the order, just that we are ignorant or we refuse to follow them because we think we are somehow above the law. By the way that's the same kind of thinking that's in the minds of those who are looting and destroying our economy, letting people put up dangerous buildings that collapse, destroying our environment. The list is endless.
There is an answer if we in our our own little ways stand out from the crowd like my friend at the lights and choose to follow the law to the letter not partially like I did. Imagine how it would be if we had 10000 pedestrians like him who behaved exactly like that. Imagine how it would be if we had drivers who actually exercised the highway code they learnt in driving school- for those who didn't buy their licences. We could start a 'good revolution' , revolutions are not all about walking in the streets or going into the bush with guns but about taking a stand. In this case a stand for what is right, in our own small seemingly insignificant ways but in the end contributing to the bigger picture. I recently saw an oft quoted statement mention in a sermon at a city church “evil triumphs when the good people do nothing”.
This time I'm not ranting and raving about disorder but my friend on Saturday- who I didn't even talk to on Saturday made me realise there's is good in our country and there can be greater good if we choose to play by the rules. Who's with me? It can be done!